INSIDE THE OUTDOORS: Virus outbreak won’t change deer season regs

THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL Conservation is monitoring the range and extent of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, (EHD) on local deer populations but does not anticipate changes to harvest regulations this season.

EHD is a viral disease of white-tailed deer transmitted in late summer/early fall by biting midges (“no-see-ums”). It’s not spread directly from deer to deer and humans cannot be infected by contact with deer or bites from midges. Dead deer are not a source of infection as the virus does not survive long in carcasses. Affected deer may appear oblivious to human activity, wandering about tending to seek water.

The DEC said hunters experiencing an outbreak of EHD, “…are concerned that the deer population cannot handle additional hunting harvest. Some hunters have inquired about the need for changes to the hunting season including curtailing the use of deer management permits (DMPs; antlerless deer tags) in the affected areas. DEC appreciates this concern, but the current EHD outbreak does not justify such actions.”

While news of a wildlife disease outbreak can be alarming to landowners and hunters finding multiple dead deer, the DEC advises, “…some perspective is needed to set the impact of EHD on deer populations in the appropriate context. DEC has received reports of roughly 1,150 dead deer from 20 counties, with the greatest number of reports coming from eastern Ulster County and to a lesser degree western Dutchess, Columbia, and (Eastern) Greene Counties. For the other counties, we have received reports of only a handful to several dozen deer. While several hundred dead deer in a county may seem like a lot, it’s a small fraction of the total deer population and a relatively minor number compared to what hunters generally harvest. For example, hunters typically harvest about 4,000 deer each year in Ulster County alone.”

Last year, EHD resulted in approximately 1,500 dead deer in eight southeastern counties. It was primarily concentrated in Putnam and Dutchess. That led to reduction in the number of antlered deer harvested by hunters in Putnam County, but antlerless deer were harvested at similar levels to prior years despite the outbreak. Biologists summarized, “We didn’t see any evidence of EHD having an impact on the deer harvest in Dutchess, Greene, Orange, or other affected counties last year. Deer populations in the EHD-affected counties are very robust, and we expect them to recover to pre-outbreak levels quickly. Unfortunately, on individual properties most heavily impacted, landowners and hunters will likely see fewer deer for a couple years.”

That last sentence is a reality check and the last thing deer hunters impacted by EHD want to hear. Like politics, all deer hunting is local. While regional deer population trends are of concern to hunters, it’s the number of deer they see while hunting year to year that shapes their impression of the status of the herd.

The DEC said if there’s substantial mortality in 2021 from the virus, the state may once again adjust future DMP allocations, stating, “The good news is that this outbreak should be ending soon. The midges die with the first hard frost, which in southeastern NY generally occurs in early-mid October.”

The problem is, according to one forecast, Columbia, Greene, Ulster and Dutchess counties will not experience a midge-killing frost any time soon. Temperatures won’t go below 40 degrees through November 5, offering no relief for Hudson Valley counties most affected by EHD.

DEC asks all hunters to submit reports of EHD-suspected deer through DEC’s online EHD reporting form, to participate in the bowhunter sighting log, and to report all deer that you harvest to help the department make informed decisions regarding future harvest objectives.

The latest numbers for Columbia County as of October 19-21 are: 223 deer reported with EHD with 7 confirmed positive and 3 confirmed negative for EHD. The reason for the low confirmed cases is most deer are not tested and assumed to have died from EHD based on circumstantial evidence of their death.

Larry DiDonato became an outdoor columnist six years ago upon his retirement as captain after 29 years of service with the NYS DEC Police.

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